An Empty Envelope’s Story By Karen E. Livsey, Fenton History Center Archivist

Despite a few days of higher than normal temperatures lately, we are still enduring winter weather. While we in the northern hemisphere have winter, those in the southern hemisphere are enjoying summer. There is one item in the collection of the Fenton History Center that has a tie to the southern hemisphere and to a person in Jamestown. And this item originated in the southern hemisphere during their summer months in 1939-1940.

Geraldine (Hilton) Tiffany was a Home Economics teacher in the Jamestown Public Schools from 1931 to 1939. Born in Minnesota, she grew up in Rochester, New York. She married Robert Tiffany in Jamestown and lived in here until her death in 1973. Sometime in 1940, she received a letter from her brother Donald C. Hilton. What was in the letter is unknown, but the Fenton History Center has the envelope. It is the envelope that prompted some research to uncover the story of the pictorial cachet and the postmark and the lack of a postage stamp plus who sent it and why.

The U.S.S. North Star was one of two ships used for the 1939-1940 Antarctic Expedition by Admiral Bryd. A number of envelopes were printed with pictorial cachets to commemorate anticipated events of the journey. This cover was made for the North Star’s stop at Pitcairn Island on December 13-14, 1939.

Donald Hilton was aboard the North Star, the ship that also carried the ill-fated Snow Cruiser. This visit and these envelopes created one of the more significant philatelic events related to the expedition’s voyage. When the North Star arrived at Pitcairn Island, it was an opportunity to have mail sent using the special cover that had been created for that event. Officially the stencil for the cachet was destroyed after 794 envelopes had been printed. The Pitcairn Island post office soon ran out of stamps. The postmaster then made arrangements for accepting payment in U. S. currency and initialing the postmark to indicate payment.  The money and the letters were then collected, later picked up by a passing ship which carried them to the United States, where they entered the U.S. Postal system in San Francisco in February. This story was found on the Internet on a website about Antarctic Postal History.

In an interview with 1st Class Lt. Julio R. Poch, of the Argentine navy, Donald Hilton was described as “an excellent boy who works as hydrographer and sledge driver.” Hilton was then about 28 years old. Lt. Poch had been invited to go along on the expedition and was an Argentine correspondent. He and Hilton were tent mates one night that was spent on Antarctic land in March 1940 while supplies were unloaded for establishing East Base.

One additional fact was discovered while researching the envelope and the person who sent it. Quoted from the Antarctic Gazetteer: Hilton Inlet-Ice filled inlet, 12 mi wide, which recedes about 22 mi W from its entrance between Capes Darlington and Knowles, along the E coast of Palmer Land. Discovered by the USAS in 1940, and named for Donald C. Hilton, member of the East Base sledge party that charted this coast as far S as this inlet.”

Pictured: An envelope, from the collection of the Fenton History Center, which is a significant piece of Antarctic postal history involving the younger brother of the addressee.


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